Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary
March 2010, Jossey-Bass
From one of the most respected names in business and leadership, a rare look at the specifics of how great leaders achieve "common purpose" and success within their organizations.
What is common purpose? It is that rare, almost-palpable experience that happens when a leader coalesces a group, team or community into a creative, dynamic, brave and nearly invincible we. It happens the moment the organization's values, tools, objectives and hopes are internalized in a way that enables people to work tirelessly toward a goal. Common purpose is rarely achieved. But Kurtzman has observed that when a leader is able to bring it about, the results are outsized, measurable and inspiring.
- Based on Kurtzman's all-new interviews with more than 50 leaders, including Ron Sargent, Ilene Lang, Micky Arison, Simon Cooper, Joel Klein, Janet Field, Steve Wynn, Shivan Subramaniam, Michael Dell, Richard Boyatzis, Tom Kelley, Michael Milken, and Warren Bennis
- Contains research on leadership Kurtzman has conducted during his years at The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Booz & Company, as well as with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mercer, and Korn/Ferry
Based on all new interviews with some of the most dynamic, successful, and enduring leaders, Common Purpose sheds new light on the meaning of leadership, the crucial qualities of leaders, and most importantly, how to lead.
Introduction: No One Leads Alone.
1 The Leadership Disconnect.
2 The New Rules of Employment.
3 Leaders at All Levels.
4 Internalizing What the Organization Stands For.
5 The Best Leaders Are Part of the Group.
6 Cultivating Curiosity, Not Complacency.
7 Creating a Culture of Leadership.
8 We’re All in This Together.
9 How Leaders Stay Positive and Determined.
10 Leading Is a Mental Game.
11 Different Strokes for Different Generations.
12 You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Lead.
13 Ideas Matter.
Epilogue: The Future of Leadership.
A Leadership Library.
About the Author.
Joel Kurtzman is chairman of the Kurtzman Group, a research and consulting firm focusing on issues relating to knowledge management, strategy, economic development, global risk, and thought leadership. He is a senior fellow at the Milken Institute and publisher of The Milken Institute Review, a member of the editorial board of MIT Sloan Management Review, and a senior fellow at Wharton's SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management. He is also an advisor to the World Economic Forum and to the U.S. Council on Competitiveness. Previously, he was the editor of Harvard Business Review, founder and editor of strategy + business magazine, a columnist at Fortune, and an editor and columnist at The New York Times. For more than 30 years, Kurtzman has interviewed, worked with, and consulted to the CEOs of some of the world's largest companies.
For more information, please visit www.kurtzmangroup.com.
"Through well-told anecdotes and strong logic, Kurtzman convincingly demonstrates that the essence of leadership is the ability to forge, from a disparate group of individuals, "a creative, dynamic, brave and nearly invincible we." How does one do that? Not by stepping out in front of the group, describing a vision, and leading the charge forward. Rather, Kurtzman's ideal leader is deep in the mix of the organization, causing its values, objectives, and approaches to be internalized by decision makers at every level." (Harvard Business Review, January-February 2010)
In our current economic situation we look to leadership for answers and solutions. This is especially true in the world of business and commerce. How are some businesses able to flourish, we wonder, while so many others are hopelessly failing? And what leadership qualities will companies need to succeed coming out of this recession? In COMMON PURPOSE: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary (Jossey-Bass; March 2010; $27.95; Hardcover), Joel Kurtzman argues that the creation of common purpose, a new concept, is the essence of leadership. In framing his cogent explanation, the author draws upon two decades of research, hundreds of interviews, personal observation, and interactions with countless leaders.
Common purpose occurs when a leader is able to get a group to internalize an organizations’ values, tools, objectives, and aspirations enabling them to work toward one goal. In Kurtzman’s framework, an effective leader does not separate himself from the group that he leads. Instead, he acts as the glue that holds the organization together. Common purpose enables a leader to impel others to act without directing their every move. It encourages autonomous actions around common goals.
Common purpose is what turns me into we.
Kurtzman explains many different ways in which a common purpose creates performance. Using well-known, as well as personal examples, Kurtzman advises ways to achieve this goal. These are just a few examples:
- Emphasize One Goal – Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, recognized that his customers valued on-time performance. He set this as the measure of success for the company. In order to underscore this goal, Bethune decided to send every employee a check every time the company was first in on-time arrival. In the different cities, pilots, flight attendants, agents, mechanics, baggage handlers, and everyone else united together to achieve this one goal, while reinforcing the feeling of “one team”.
- Become Flat, Instead of Hierarchical – In a hierarchical organization information supplied by subordinates is looked at with condescension by individuals at the top. In the case of Enron, Sherron Watkins signaled to Ken Lay, the chairman of the organization, that something was wrong with the company’s partnerships and the way they were kept off the books. Lay ignored the information due to the rationalization that if something was wrong, he, as chairman, would know. Creating different levels of importance in an organization usually works against common purpose.
- Leaders at All Levels – When a company has a common purpose, all employees have an understanding of what the organization stands for, enabling them to make a decision independently based on that information. Simon Cooper, president and CEO of Ritz-Carlton, calls this “scriptless service”. With such a diverse clientele, employees cannot simply operate by choosing from a limited number of preselected solutions to guest requests. A chambermaid must be empowered to decide on her own volition whether to give a guest extra towels based upon what was used the night before.
- Lead by Listening – FM Global’s chairman and CEO, Shivan Subramaniam, takes every opportunity to listen to his employees. He eats in the company’s cafeteria and often sits with random groups of FM Global employees. Subramaniam puts himself in the loop of what is going on with the company. It also makes him accessible to his employees, in case they wish to share their ideas.
The goal of an organization is to achieve maximum performance consistently. As Kurtzman so deftly explains without a strong common purpose, there will be no excellence in execution.
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